United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
JEFFERY J. MOORE and SANDRA J. MOORE, Plaintiffs,
EQUITRANS, L.P., a Pennsylvania limited partnership, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING WITHOUT
PREJUDICE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO AMEND JUDGMENT AND
MAINTAINING STAY AND DENYING REQUEST FOR SANCTIONS
FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
plaintiffs (“the Moores”) brought this civil
action alleging breach of contract and trespass, alleging
that the defendant, Equitrans, L.P.
(“Equitrans”), constructed portions of a natural
gas pipeline outside of a right-of-way agreement from 1960.
After a trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the
Moores, finding that Equitrans either violated the 1960 right
of way agreement or trespassed by constructing various
portions of the pipeline (approximately 0.56 acres) outside
of the 1960 right of way. However, the Moores had withdrawn
claims for monetary damages and sought only ejectment.
Equitrans filed a motion to stay execution of the judgment so
it could pursue condemnation of the right of way under the
Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. § 717f(h). This Court granted
that motion and stayed this civil action pending
Equitrans' condemnation action. Before entering the stay,
this Court entered a judgment order finding that
Equitrans' actions constituted a breach of contract
or a trespass. However, that judgment order did not
include a finding that ejectment was the proper remedy, but
only that ejectment was a possible remedy.
then filed its condemnation action, in which a judgment has
been entered and to which the Moores have noticed an appeal.
See 1:15CV106. The Moores then filed this motion to
amend the judgment in this civil action under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 59(e) or, alternatively, to lift the stay.
Specifically, the Moores ask this Court to enter a judgment
for ejectment or to lift the stay and allow the Moores to
seek damages through a trial on damages.
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has
recognized three grounds for amending an earlier judgment:
(1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law;
(2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or
(3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest
injustice. Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins.
Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998). “Rule
59(e) motions may not be used . . . to raise arguments which
could have been raised prior to the issuance of the judgment,
nor may they be used to argue a case under a novel legal
theory that the party had the ability to address in the first
instance.” Id. A Rule 59(e) motion may not be
used to relitigate old matters and is an extraordinary remedy
that should be used sparingly. Id. It is improper to
use this motion to ask the court to “rethink what the
court ha[s] already thought through-rightly or
wrongly.” Above the Belt, Inc. v. Mel Bohannan
Roofing, Inc., 99 F.R.D. 99, 101 (E.D. Va. 1983).
Court believes that it would be beneficial to maintain the
stay of this civil action pending the appeal in the
condemnation action because the outcome of that appeal will
determine the available remedies in this civil action. Thus,
at this time, this Court finds no grounds for amending the
Moores argue that this Court should enter a judgment for
ejectment because the judgment in the condemnation action is
not sufficient to compensate the Moores for the trespass and,
thus, is not an adequate remedy. In the condemnation action,
the Moores seek to appeal this Court's ruling, among
others, that Equitrans had the power to condemn under the
Natural Gas Act. If the Moores prevail in their appeal,
ejectment may be a proper remedy in this civil action.
However, if the judgment is affirmed, ejectment will not be
an available remedy here because Equitrans will have title to
the subject right of way. Further, this Court notes that the
judgment in the condemnation action is for the amount of just
compensation for the taking of the right of way and does not
serve as a remedy for Equitrans' prior trespass.
Humphries v. Williams Natural Gas Co., 48 F.Supp.2d
1276, 1279 n.3 (D. Kan. 1999). However, because these matters
are dependent upon the outcome of the Moores' appeal in
the condemnation action, this Court will not rule on this
issue at this time.
the Moores ask this Court to lift the stay and allow the
parties to proceed with a trial on damages. However, if the
Moores prevail on their appeal in the condemnation action,
the Moores may be able to continue to seek ejectment. Thus,
this issue is not yet ripe and will be best determined after
the appeal in the condemnation action. Further, this Court
notes that the issue of whether the Moores may now elect
damages as their remedy presents several legal questions that
will be best determined after the appeal in the condemnation
action. Specifically, it is not clear whether, under Erie
Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938), federal
procedural law rather than West Virginia law applies to the
sequencing of the Moores' remedy election, see
Homeland Training Ctr., LLC v. Summit Point Auto. Res.
Ctr., 594 F.3d 285, 293 n.1 (4th Cir. 2010), or whether
the Moores are judicially estopped from seeking damages.
These issues will be best decided, if a decision is required
at all, after the appeal in the condemnation action is
resolved and the parties have had an opportunity to
completely present arguments on these matters.
in its response Equitrans requests sanctions for costs and
fees incurred in responding to the Moores' motion.
However, this Court finds no basis for imposing sanctions and
Equitrans' request is DENIED.
above reasons, the Moores' motion to amend the judgment
(ECF No. 121) is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. The stay of this
civil action shall remain in place pending the appeal in the
condemnation action ...